In my last years teaching as a primary school teacher in inner London I believe it is fair to say that there was a crisis in recruiting new teachers. When I started teaching back in 1999 if you needed a teacher you advertised, held interviews and then picked the best candidate. In the last few years, you either employed the only candidate and hoped that your doubts would be unfounded or carried on muddling through without enough staff to give the children the education they deserved. On many occasions you just kept re-advertising as there would be no applicants – good or bad. Not that there was a lack of qualified teachers, countless great teachers had left the profession. A teacher over 50 with a wealth of experience and knowledge is a rarity. When I started teaching, they were the people who you learned from and who kept the school on an even keel. The voices of reason.
At this point I should make it clear that, in general, I do not like teachers. I have not always been a teacher and feel like I lived a life before going into the profession. Many teachers went to school, left school then returned to school as a teacher. They have been in an education bubble and know little about many important things in the outside world. Like institutionalised prisoners. They have high opinions of themselves and have an inflated sense of their importance. They moan about how hard they work and can be anal about the most pointless of details. A staff meeting at a Primary school is like a scene out of The Office. Arguments about what colour folders they should have, how big a tick should be and what type of ruler to order. They can’t wait to criticise another member of staff and have an opinion on everyone and everything. They moan about policies behind closed door then follow blindly even when they know that what they are being told to do is flawed or worse still damaging (hands up on that one).
But… they are the most dedicated, hardworking and conscientious people you will ever meet. They take their work home with them and work ridiculous hours for no extra pay. They are passionate about their jobs to the point of obsession. If you were to go for a meal or a few drinks with a group of teachers (and if you are not a teacher, I do not recommend it) then the conversation is invariably about work. I have many other friends and the last thing they want to talk about is their job, unless they have a funny story to tell. But teachers will easily fall into the most inane conversation about phonics or resources or some other mundane feature of their working day. They take any criticism to heart unable to get past it. Many verge on insomnia unable to switch off from their work. They are stressed, guilt-ridden, tired-looking people, many are on medication. Their home lives suffer terribly from the demands that they and their schools put on them. Like nurses, doctors, firemen and the police force they are criticised and undervalued in equal measures. They, like education in the UK, are broken.
Reason 1- children
Today’s children have an ingrown sense of entitlement. They do not hear the word no nearly enough and always feel like they are owed something. Let me give you some examples. I was coaching football for Charlton Athletic it was a free coaching course and every day the children (who had not paid a penny) were given a raffle ticket. When the week was finished, we had a draw and a child won a bike. The next thing we know the child is crying and the parents are fuming and kicking off. Why? The free bike is too big!
Another time, I was doing booster clubs for exams after school, for free, in my own time. The children were weeks away from their exams and in danger of not passing. The club was put on because we wanted to support the children as much as possible and their parents could not afford tutors. It was immediately after school, but half of the children turned up over halfway through the class, stinking of smoke. When I questioned them, I was told they had gone to the chippie. When I said that they should have come straight to the class I was told that I was lucky they were there at all! Their future not mine. Many had no respect for adults, each other or themselves. But it wasn’t their faults. Really. It wasn’t. They had been exposed to more in their short lives than I had in my lifetime. Through the internet, video games and sadly in their own neighbourhoods and houses. They had seen and experienced things that most adults shouldn’t see or experience. Many of them live in poverty. If you could break through their barriers there was still a nervous, wide-eyed child struggling to get out. In fact, that would be the most rewarding moment in your profession. Unfortunately, many never escape, too deeply entrenched – protecting themselves from their lives. The number of damaged children in our schools is growing year on year – meanwhile the people who used to help and support them are being lost to the profession. The first to lose their jobs as government cuts take their toll. Special needs teams are ravaged and fast disappearing in many schools. The very schools where they are more needed than ever.
I will pause here and continue this into my next blog. Where I will look at the other reasons why teaching as a profession in England is in peril:
- The government
As a note to give some balance. Obviously, I have generalised in this blog, and it is based on my limited experiences. There are some wonderful teachers whom I have encountered in my teaching career who can leave their jobs at the door and who I feel privileged to say are my friends. In the same way that there are many well-balanced, well cared for children who light up your days as a teacher. Worryingly the balance has shifted and continues to do so.